Fall Salon Venue Spotlight: Workshop Chicago by Katie Kenney

For our fall salon we gathered at Workshop Chicago, a co-working space in the River West neighborhood, which proved to be the perfect setting to complement our conversation focused on passion projects. With stunning views of the skyline and a cotton-candy colored sunset, we couldn’t have asked for a better evening or space to host some of Chicago’s most creative women entrepreneurs.  We recently sat down with Ben Skoda, Director of Workshop, community-building expert and all-around great guy, to learn more about what Workshop’s all about.Fotor01021222333 So first thing's first, can you explain what co-working is and why it is beneficial?

We often talk about the advantages of sharing at Workshop. Co-working is simply the practice of sharing for grown-ups. Many of us have been taught to work hard to achieve things on our own, but I think our society is built to benefit from and support a stronger sharing infrastructure.

When you offer some of what you have to a community of like-minded people, you start to see the benefits come back to you from others who do the same. You can call it karma or the golden rule or whatever, but the principle does really play out in real life. Not only do you end up receiving tangible benefits from those around you, but you get to learn, connect, and experience humanity on a whole new level than a lot of us are accustomed to.

It’s hard to articulate, but it’s really beautiful to see it happen consistently at Workshop.

20140924_forth-76What types of people tend to utilize Workshop? Is it open to everyone?

We encourage anyone who is drawn to our space and community to apply for membership. Our goal has always been to attract the best people, regardless of their role or industry.  We think that’s the best way to build a community based on sharing anyway. We’ve ended up with a really unique, eclectic mix of people representing a variety of creative, business, and nonprofit endeavors and an array of skillsets. It’s fun to watch the interactions.


Co-working can be beneficial to workers in many industries and positions, but we consistently see the success stories of people who freelance, or have recently launched a new entrepreneurial venture. They typically have limited time and resources, which inhibits ability to secure their own office space. Many of them need to move their work out of their home or the local coffee shop, and they see the benefits of connecting with other people in an environment that fosters connections of all types.

Co-working seems to promote collaboration and conversation. Are there any moments of co-working that have occurred at Workshop that you are particularly proud of?

One of my favorite things to do is to introduce people and slowly back out of the conversation. It’s such a treat to see people who have connected at Workshop collaborating. We’ve seen several instances of freelancers being hired through Workshop connections.

But to answer your questions specifically, there was one instance of a collaboration leading to a conversation that led to a friend landing her dream job. To summarize, she and a friend visited Workshop because they wanted to use our space for an event they were collaborating on, and I loved what they were doing so much I invited them to join a conversational meet-up I was hosting a few weeks later. In that conversation, she shared with us her “ideal job.” A couple of weeks later, a Workshop member asked me if I knew anyone who might be a good fit for a job opening she saw, and it was literally the other girl’s dream job. She interviewed and got hired.

That’s just one fun example of the exact type of connection we want to facilitate here.collage1What inspired you to start Workshop Chicago?

In short, I recognized the value of space in the development of a community. I wanted to gather all of the like-minded, thoughtful people I knew in Chicago, and hopefully connect them to other great people. One of the biggest challenges of building community in the digital age is to literally gather people in the same room. I figured that the easiest way to counteract that was to find us a room.

That’s such a good point about the need for a physical space to foster connections in our digital age. And the physical space you've created is wonderful! How did you create an environment conducive to many different types of work that also encourages collaboration?

Well thanks. We had a wonderful team collaborating on the space. It was strategic in that we knew we wanted to facilitate different work configurations, as well as a variety of meetings and events.20140924_forth-99We started with the canvas of a beautiful, industrial space and assembled a team that included an interior architect, a designer, a couple of talented builders, and a few experienced organizers and hosts. The result is a collaboration that has allowed us to host dozens of co-workers in a way that encourages conversation and collaboration, along with many creative gatherings–everything from small concerts to yoga, workshops, lectures, book signings, dance parties, and a lot in-between.

20140924_forth-53You've hosted a variety of events and opened your doors to many groups in Chicago including our very own Natalie Pavela's Yoga+ event - how do you decide which events to host? 

We’ve had the good fortune of so many creative people reaching out to us. That was always the goal—to create a space that inspires others to use it as their platform. Our business model allows us to find an appropriate balance of revenue-generating space rentals and collaborative or co-branded gatherings that offer something valuable to our community and perpetuate the message we’re sharing with the world.

Photo by Carolina Mariana

So we approach some people with ideas for creative gatherings, and sometimes people approach us. Either way, it’s been incredible to look back at what has happened here and dream of what’s still to come.

Photo by Carolina Mariana

What has been your personal favorite event you've hosted?

That’s a tough one. I’ll give you two: One was the Creative Mornings Happy Hour with author Dallas Clayton. It was a magical night of content and connecting, and so cool to collaborate with that team.20140924_forth-81

Another favorite was an event we hosted called Failure:Lab, where storytellers are invited to share a 10-minute story of a failure in their life, and songwriters share some of their most heart-warming and hopeful songs. The Failure:Lab team has hosted these events all over Michigan, and this was the first in Chicago—but hopefully not the last.

It was such a pleasure to be part of a gathering that was based on sharing from the heart, celebrating raw humanity, and connecting through vulnerability. We want Workshop to shed light on the human elements of work and life, and humanity was on display that night. Wow.

Photo by Carolina Mariana

I love Dallas Clayton! And Failure Lab sounds like such an authentic event. I’m assuming starting Workshop hasn’t been all smooth sailing and has likely involved some setbacks or even failures along the way. What would you say has been the most challenging part about starting Workshop and how have you overcome?

Every new thing has plenty of challenges, but our biggest is ensuring that our business model allows us to sustain consistent revenue generating. We’re both a service-based and a mission-based company, and I tend to focus more on the “mission” side. But I’m constantly reminded that we won’t be around to support the mission if we can’t pay the bills.

So the challenge is to be flexible and have patience with a new business in a new industry, and to let the community and customer inform your best streams of revenue. We’re still adjusting our model to reflect what people seem to want from us the most, and at the same time we’re always working to offer the best experience for those who have already invested in our services.20140924_forth-58Can you share one of your favorite moments that has occurred at Workshop?

This may sound odd, but one of the best moments was when I got on a plane with my wife and spent some time in Europe over the summer. I say that because Workshop thrived in my absence, which proved that we had established something that people were starting to understand. It was no longer just this crazy idea I had, it was actually a strategic concept that had growth potential. That was a great moment.

20140924_forth-119And lastly, looking ahead, what are your plans for the future? Is there anything you want to accomplish in 2015?

There’s so much we want to see happen in 2015! We have a vision for facilitating even more types of gatherings and work sessions. We’d love for people to see Workshop as a hub for a certain type of connection, and become the best/first option for facilitating specific event types.

Also, we’ve had some folks reach out to get our insights on creating space and community-focused branding. We’d love to get better at sharing that, and to be able to offer something more concrete to help other brands connect to people. It certainly fits within our mission and focus.

Additionally, we want to grow in our collaborative content production. We want to utilize our skilled, creative friends at Workshop to help us produce innovative, thoughtful content simply because it would make the world a better, more human place.

Ultimately, we want Workshop’s footprint to be one that celebrates the challenges and triumphs of people and togetherness.


With exposed brick, lots of natural light, quintessential views of the Chicago skyline and a supportive community filling the space, we think Workshop just may be the coolest place to co-work in Chicago. Check out Workshop’s website and follow them on Facebook, Instagram, and/or Twitter to learn more. Thanks, Ben, for sharing your space with us!

Photos by Forth co-founder Kelly Allison and Carolina Mariana, where noted.

Forth Spotlight: Melissa and Becca of A Little Photo Studio by Natalie Pavela

We were so excited when Melissa Salvatore offered to host the Forth spring salon at Hertiage Littles, the adorable kids bike shop/milk-and-cookies bar that she owns with her husband Mike. The Heritage Littles space is unique because it houses three additional businesses in the basement - A Little Photo Studio which Melissa owns and operates, Avery House photography, and the Chicago branch of Smilebooth. On top of that, Melissa recently brought on her long-time friend Becca Doell to join in running the operations at A Little Photo Studio.

At our spring salon both of these ladies shared valuable insights on the joys and challenges of women working together in business. Today Melissa & Becca dish on the transition from 'just friends' to being 'friends and coworkers', sharing what they've learned about each other since the partnership began, how they've benefited from sharing a studio space with other businesses, and tips they'd give women who are considering going into business together. Read on!

The two of you have been long-time friends, but just recently started working together. What were the some of the biggest considerations you each had to address before deciding to move forward with expanding your relationship from friendship into the co-worker/co-collaborator sphere?

(Becca) Our biggest concern was hashing out numbers (salary, etc.) and making sure everything was super legit and contractual to avoid potential arguments/conflict over vagueries in that department later. The funny thing is, we were so concerned about that, but we still haven't actually drawn up a contract! My feeling about that though is if Melissa were to sit me down and say, I don't think we're working well together and we need to go our separate ways, I would say cool, thanks for thinking of me in the first place. If she were to sit me down and say, I have to stop loving you because I think you're a terrible person, I would be devastated. For me, business, money, contracts, etc. are fleeting and terrestrial, whereas my love for her and our friendship is forever. That may sound naive, but it really is true for me. I think the depth of friendship you have with someone can make a huge difference in the success or failure of a professional partnership. A solid base of open communication can get two people through anything. If you know each others' strengths/weaknesses/annoying quirks/body odors, and you've already had years to figure out if those quirks or body odors are deal breakers in terms of how much time you want to spend with this person, then it's hard to fail.

(Melissa) Well, Becca beat me to the punch in answering these questions and how can I compete with that answer!?! I mean, this is how we work so well with each other. We each have our own voice, talents and skills but at the same time can finish each other's sentences. I have a few friends who it just doesn't matter what you do with each other or where you are at in life or where you live, you will still be friends and she has always been one of those. We approached this move with caution (on paper) but also (in reality) with a leap of faith. It just happened that the timing worked out (all very quickly actually). There was a 7 year lull where we hardly spoke on the phone or kept in touch, but once we reconnected and the idea was brought up for her to move and join this creative venture, it just worked. I personally approached it from a standpoint that if it works out then great and we will figure out all the details along the way. It was very important to both of us that the contracts and money needed to be discussed and firmed up, but there also needed to be fluidity in the process. My biggest fear was that she wouldn't feel comfortable or "ownership" of the ideas or space since it was not hers to start, but she is so great at diving right in that my biggest fear has already been curbed.

What is one thing you've learned about each other since starting to work together?

(Becca) I've learned that Melissa's energy level is as expansive as the universe. It has no end and no beginning and is accelerating as we speak. As long as I've known her, she's done at least 3 things at once, but she amazes me every time she finds the fuel from one muffin and a coffee to photograph 3 families with 3 three kids back to back, answer 4 email accounts, return 5 phone calls, go home and make dinner,give her son a bath, read him two books, put him to bed, clean up dinner, AND watch Shark Tank with a clear and happy head.

(Melissa) Can you ask Becca questions every day so that I can hear all these wonderful things? I'm blushing. I don't know if it is as much of what I have learned about Becca, but what I already knew - that she can roll with the punches in new situations. With our new studio and how much is on our daily plate, it has really been less training and more diving in and getting to business. She is great at keeping to tasks and helping the studio execute our ideas (the ones that would be on the never ending to-do list if I was doing this alone.) I also re-learned about her amazing talent to sing a song while burping.

Your space houses four businesses under one roof. Can you share one way think your businesses/you as creatives have benefited from co-working? What are some challenges of a situation like this as well?

(Melissa) It is wonderful to have the shared usage of such a large space and also to share with such creative and equally as motivated people. The space is shared between 2 couples: Myself and Mike who own Heritage Littles and A Little Photo Studio and Matt and Stevi Savage who own AveryHouse and the Chicago franchise of Smilebooth. There are ways that our businesses all intertwine with each other and we are able to bounce ideas off of each other and cross-promote. The biggest challenge is scheduling and working out how and when the space is used. As organized as we were with the set-up, at the end of the day, your customers decide how a space is used. Overall, this was a cautious approach to opening another retail space for Mike and I and it was done between friends with the knowledge that there would be challenges and an adjustment period. We also followed our golden rule of not leaving things too vague and hashed out many of the details when putting together a contract before entering the space together and we both were in understanding that when it comes down to it, it is a business decision and if it doesn't work out in a year, it wouldn't affect our friendship.

At the end of the day, It was important for both of our families to have work-life integration with some balance and by sharing a creative space together this has opened up many opportunities and freed up a lot of family time without feeling burdened by the overhead.

What are 3 tips you'd give women considering going into business together?

1. (Becca) I think you definitely need to weigh the pros and cons of you both being mothers and what that means for productivity and workflow. We don't have that problem yet, but I know it was a huge consideration for Melissa and other friends she's thought of working with. Because I don't have kids, I'm not tied to any schedule other than my own. I can rearrange my day for work, whereas some days Melissa has to rearrange work to fit into her home life. I know if and when I do start a family, Melissa would be more understanding of the different ways family can interrupt a work week.

2. (melissa) I'd say respect - woman have a tendency to compete with one another. There needs to be a level of respect for the other person and their workflow. And with that said, for me that meant the need to have the same work ethics as the person I hired as my "right-hand-woman". I wouldn't have collaborated with anyone that didn't work hard regardless of what is going on in their personal life. I think that for women the entire benefit of being in your own business is that the flexibility outweighs the stress of running your own business. But it is goes full circle because for the flexibility to be successful, you have to have a great work ethic.

3. Keep an extra box of tampons at work.